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The Arabic Plotinus


A Philosophical Study of the 'Theology of Aristotle'


A reprint of Peter Adamson's influential work The Arabic Plotinus.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0718-2
  • *
Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Dec 27,2017
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 258
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0718-2
$70.00

The so-called "Theology of Aristotle" is a translation of the Enneads of Plotinus, the most important representative of late ancient Platonism. It was produced in the 9th century CE within the circle of al-Kindī, one of the most important groups for the early reception of Greek thought in Arabic. In part because the "Theology" was erroneously transmitted under Aristotle's authorship, it became the single most important conduit by which Neoplatonism reached the Islamic world. It is referred to by such thinkers as al-Fārābī, in an attempt to demonstrate the agreement between Platonism and Aristotelianism, Avicenna, who wrote a set of comments on the text, and later on thinkers of Safavid Persia including Mullā Ṣadrā.

Yet the "Theology" is not just a translation. It may in fact more accurately be described as a creative paraphrase, which takes frequent liberties with the source text and even includes whole paragraphs' worth of new material. Adamson's book offers a philosophical interpretation of the changes introduced in the Arabic version. It is argued that these changes were in part intended to show the relevance of Plotinus' thought for contemporary Islamic culture, for instance by connecting the Neoplatonist theory of the First Principle to theological disputes within Islam over the status of God's attributes. At the same time the paraphrase reflects a tendency to harmonize the various strands of Greek thought, so that a critique by Plotinus of Aristotle's theory of the soul is subtly changed into a defense of Aristotle's theory against a possible misinterpretation. The upshot, or so Adamson argues, is that the "Theology" needs to be read as an original philosophical work in its own right, and understood within the context of the ʿAbbāsid era.

The so-called "Theology of Aristotle" is a translation of the Enneads of Plotinus, the most important representative of late ancient Platonism. It was produced in the 9th century CE within the circle of al-Kindī, one of the most important groups for the early reception of Greek thought in Arabic. In part because the "Theology" was erroneously transmitted under Aristotle's authorship, it became the single most important conduit by which Neoplatonism reached the Islamic world. It is referred to by such thinkers as al-Fārābī, in an attempt to demonstrate the agreement between Platonism and Aristotelianism, Avicenna, who wrote a set of comments on the text, and later on thinkers of Safavid Persia including Mullā Ṣadrā.

Yet the "Theology" is not just a translation. It may in fact more accurately be described as a creative paraphrase, which takes frequent liberties with the source text and even includes whole paragraphs' worth of new material. Adamson's book offers a philosophical interpretation of the changes introduced in the Arabic version. It is argued that these changes were in part intended to show the relevance of Plotinus' thought for contemporary Islamic culture, for instance by connecting the Neoplatonist theory of the First Principle to theological disputes within Islam over the status of God's attributes. At the same time the paraphrase reflects a tendency to harmonize the various strands of Greek thought, so that a critique by Plotinus of Aristotle's theory of the soul is subtly changed into a defense of Aristotle's theory against a possible misinterpretation. The upshot, or so Adamson argues, is that the "Theology" needs to be read as an original philosophical work in its own right, and understood within the context of the ʿAbbāsid era.

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Contributor Biography

Peter Adamson

Peter Adamson is Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich. He is the author of a monograph on al-Kindi, as well as co-author of a book of translations of Kindi's works, both published by Oxford University Press. This press also publishes his book series A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. He has edited or co-edited numerous volumes including the Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy and Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays. Two volumes collecting his papers on Neoplatonism and philosophy in the Islamic world appeared recently with the Variorum series published by Ashgate.

Table of Contents (v)
Abbreviations and Transliteration (ix)
Frequently used abbreviations (ix)
Transliteration (ix)
Acknowledgements (xi)
Preface (xiii)
Introduction (1)
1. The Arabic Plotinus Texts and their Origin (5)
1.1. The Arabic Plotinus corpus (5)
1.1.1. The Theology of Aristotle (ThA) (6)
1.1.2. The Letter on Divine Science (DS) (7)
1.1.3. Sayings ascribed to the “Greek Sage” (GS) (7)
1.1.4. The common Arabic Plotinus source (7)
1.1.5. The nature of the paraphrase (9)
1.1.6. Skipping and re-ordering in ThA (12)
1.2. The origins of AP (17)
1.2.1. The identity of the Adaptor (18)
1.2.2. The role of Porphyry (19)
1.3. Other texts related to AP (21)
1.3.1. Early works related to AP (21)
1.3.2. The later influence of AP (22)
2. The Prologue and the “Headings” (27)
2.1. The Prologue (27)
2.1.1. Sources of the Prologue: the Metaphysics and AP (30)
2.1.2. Al-Kindī as the author of the Prologue (35)
2.1.3. The conception of philosophy in the Prologue (40)
2.2. The “Headings” (42)
2.2.1. The textual basis of the headings (43)
2.2.2. The purpose of the headings (45)
2.2.3. Philosophical views in the headings (47)
3. Psychology and Ethics (49)
3.1. Aristotelian influence on the Adaptor’s theory of soul (49)
3.1.1. Mīmar III and the question of entelechia (50)
3.1.2. Soul’s relationship to body (55)
3.1.3. AP and the Arabic paraphrase of the De Anima (63)
3.2. Ethical views in AP (69)
3.2.1. Virtue and the cosmos (69)
3.2.2. Memory and the fall of the soul (75)
4. Language and Epistemology (85)
4.1. Strategies of predication (85)
4.2. Learned ignorance (88)
4.2.1. The doctrine of mīmar II (88)
4.2.2. A potency higher than act (94)
4.2.3. Porphyry and learned ignorance in AP (102)
4.2.4. Dionysius and learned ignorance in AP (106)
5. Theology and Metaphysics (111)
5.1. Divine revelation (112)
5.1.1. Negative theology in AP (112)
5.1.2. Positive theology in AP (115)
5.1.3. Predication by causality and eminence (117)
5.1.4. Is the First Principle “complete”? (119)
5.2. God and being (124)
5.2.1. The terminology of existence (125)
5.2.2. God as the “first being” and “only being” (128)
5.2.3. God as pure actuality and cause of being (132)
5.3. Creation (137)
5.3.1. Mediated creation vs. unmediated creation (137)
5.3.2. Creation and time (142)
5.3.3. Creation and necessity (145)
5.3.4. God and thinking (149)
5.4. The Adaptor’s sources (155)
5.4.1. Plotinus, Enneads VI.8 (157)
5.4.2. The anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides (159)
5.4.3. Pseudo-Dionysius, the Divine Names (162)
5.4.4. The Mu‘tazila (165)
Conclusion: The Outlook and Idenrity of the Adaptor (171)
Appendix: Al-Kindī’s and the Arabic Plotinus (179)
1. Al-Kindī’s method and the unity of his corpus (180)
2. Metaphysics and theology (182)
3. Psychology (193)
4. Astrology (197)
5. Conclusion (204)
Notes (207)
Bibliography (229)
Index (237)

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